Lionel Messi didn't deserve to win the World Cup Golden Ball. FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted he was taken aback by the award to the Argentine superstar revealing he was 'a little surprised' when he saw Messi collecting the trophy. Argentinian World Cup winners, and previous Golden Ball recipients, Diego Maradona and Mario Kempes echoed the sentiments of the FIFA supremo believing it was an incorrect decision, with Maradona going as far as to claim it was all part of a marketing ploy. The general consensus on social media strongly indicated that Messi did not deserve the latest addition to his already brimming collection of personal awards and judging by the forlorn look etched across his face as he collected the trophy, it was not one that was readily welcomed. But if Messi didn't then who did?
Since its inception in 1978, the Golden Ball award has perennially been awarded to a player from the semi-finalists, rarely presented to a player from the winning team (not since Romario in 1994). With Brazil's capitulation in the semi-final almost certainly ruling out a member of the Seleção, it would leave someone from Germany, Argentina and Holland to choose a winner from.
Whilst there is no question that Germany deservedly won their fourth title, the run was merited more on the excellence of their squad rather than punctuated by individual moments of brilliance. Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Muller all had fantastic tournaments, however would they still have won the tournament without one of them? With a cursory glance at the depth of talent in Die Mannschaft squad it becomes clear that the team was the star, reliant on the collective rather than the individual.
Hollands surge to third place was due to many fine performances, however their stand out performer was Arjen Robben. Much like Messi though his best performances appeared to be in the group stages and he seemed to become suffocated with the lack of space provided to him in the later rounds. However when the two are compared statistically there really is no comparison.
Although Messi did not finish top goalscorer, with only two players finishing above him, arguably no other player had a more telling contribution to their teams goals throughout the tournament. Having scored the winner in the first two games and a two of the three against Nigeria, it was Messi's wonderful dribble and assist which led to Argentina's winner against Switzerland in the last 16. His retrieval of the ball directly led to the only goal against Belgium in the quarters. In the semi final against the Dutch he twice laid on opportunities for his teammates in extra time, firstly with an exquisite scoop over the flooded Dutch defense for Palacio to squander preceding a wonderful dribble down the right that culminated in his pinpoint cross being tamely directed towards goal by Maxi Rodriguez.
With regards to his dribbling, he left our mouths watering by providing more completed runs in the whole tournament with 46, comfortably putting Robben's 29 in the shade. In fact he wasn't far behind Maradona's all time record of 50 from 1986. According to WhoScored.com, he finished with the highest average rating (8.52), created more chances than anyone else in the tournament and was only second to Andrea Pirlo when it came to playing through balls. And who can forget the pass of the tournament against Belgium.
So why are so many people shocked and 'a little surprised' by Messi being the recipient of the Golden Ball award? There was no such outcry when Diego Forlan received the award in 2010, whilst Zinedine Zidane only started to perform in the quarter finals in 2006 and was deemed a worthy winner. Would he have only been worthy if he had single handedly won the trophy by himself, slaloming from the halfway line evading tackle after tackle to score one of the finest goals of all time? No other player would be expected to achieve such heights to win the Golden Ball so why should Messi? Did he prove he was the greatest player of all time, no not really. However did he prove that he was the best, most decisive, most influential player at the 2014 World Cup. Probably yes...
Well, unless you include James Rodriguez...